Capital Punishment: The death penalty does not fulfill justice Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops October 10, 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
Each year during October the Church observes Respect Life Month. During this time, we pray and reflect on the precious gift of life and recommit ourselves to working toward a culture that truly welcomes and protects human life in our society, from conception to natural death. Catholic teaching on abortion and euthanasia is very clear, as is our commitment to the ongoing work of improving living conditions, education, and health-care access for all, especially the poor and those without resources.
This year we bishops draw particular attention to our consistent call for the abolition of the death penalty in Texas, as we recognize this is undeniably a pro-life issue.
Catholic Social Teaching is a distinct body of Church doctrine and an essential part of Catholic faith (Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, Challenges & Directions, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). Rooted in the Scriptures, our Church’s teaching develops over centuries as the Church encounters new social realities and challenges. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is with the Church as we “read the signs of the times” in each new culture and age (Gaudium et Spes, no. 4). Today, the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a comprehensive summary of Catholic doctrine.
Catholic teaching unequivocally states that “if non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means ...” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2267). This simply means if alternatives to the death penalty exist that serve to protect society from violent criminals, society “must limit itself” to these other means. There can be no doubt such means exist today in the United States, including in the State of Texas.
Pope Saint John Paul II wrote that conditions suggesting the legitimate use of capital punishment are “very rare, if not practically non-existent” (Evangelium Vitae, no. 56). Pope Francis has stated that “it is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend people’s lives from an unjust aggressor” (Address to Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law, Vatican City, October 24, 2014).
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church teaches that these non-violent ways of preserving public order “are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person" (no. 2267). In fact, in our country and in the State of Texas the death penalty not only does not correspond to the common good, it actually does great harm to it.
First, the death penalty is disproportionately used on the poor, racial minorities and the vulnerable. The death penalty in and of itself perpetuates the notion that life is in some instances disposable, or can be judged of no worth. It is well documented that those who can least afford a defense are most likely to receive a death penalty; more than 90% of those on death row cannot afford an attorney. In 1990, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty.” Furthermore, the death penalty has been applied to persons of limited mental capacity. These realities contribute to a callous disregard for the dignity of human life. The death penalty negatively influences our children’s moral formation and our culture as it fails to allow for mercy and redemption.
Secondly, scarce public resources are devoted to the death penalty, thus injuring the common good. The cost of housing and feeding a prisoner for a life sentence is three times lower than the court costs incurred by a lengthy appeals process for a prisoner on death row (Death Penalty Information Center, deathpenaltyinfo.org).
Thirdly, innocent people are killed by the government on our behalf. There are at least 23 documented cases of innocent people who were executed in the United States in this century for capital crimes. The American Bar Association has concluded that administration of the death penalty is “a haphazard maze of unfair practices with no internal consistency” and has called for a moratorium on executions.
The Catechism does not recognize the prospect of deterrence as justification for the death penalty. But even if it did, states without the death penalty have either similar or lower crime rates than Texas (Death Penalty Information Center). The notion that the death penalty deters crime is false. It also feeds into the false belief that violence is the only remedy for violence.
As a Church we accompany our brothers and sisters, children,parents and loved ones as we see them suffer from the heinous and violent actions of others. Only God can console them, yet we offer what comfort we can with our presence and prayer. The healing that comes from forgiveness has been a powerful force in the lives of many families who have experienced violence. Through our varied ministries, we offer counseling, personal support, and the grace of the sacraments to assist in the healing process. Our ministry of healing and forgiveness is rooted in Jesus’ command to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Our call to abolish the death penalty is not a call to deny justice. On the contrary, it is a call to the whole community to recognize that the death penalty does not fulfill justice, nor does it console the inconsolable. Rather than seeking vengeance, forgiveness offers a victim’s family and the accused true healing that comes through restorative justice.
Capital punishment vitiates our hearts’ capacity for mercy and love. Due process for the accused, the incarceration of the guilty, and the protection of the community serve justice and mercy. As a Church, we strive to walk with those who have time to repent. As Scripture says, God “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). Our prison ministries are founded on the mission given to us by the Lord to offer a call to repentance to those who have lost hope, or whom the world has given up for lost.
May God give us the grace to witness to the dignity of human life. May the Lord console the suffering, protect our community, and grant conversion to those responsible for the inflicting of death and violence upon others. In this Year of Mercy, may we be stewards of mercy to all.
Texas Catholic Bishops call for abolition of death penaltyStatement released during Respect Life Month: Bishops say it is “undeniably” a pro-life issue and that death penalty “does great harm” to the common good.
AUSTIN — The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a statement calling for the abolition of the death penalty, denouncing its effects not only on victims and others immediately affected, but also on society.
“Capital punishment vitiates our hearts’ capacity for mercy and love,” the bishops write, noting that “the death penalty not only does not correspond to the common good, it actually does great harm to it.” In their statement, the bishops cite several ways that harm is inflicted: 1) Capital punishment is used disproportionally on the poor, minorities, and people with mental disabilities; 2) Costs for capital punishment cases are three times that of a prisoner with life imprisonment; 3) The finality of death does not allow for rehabilitation or for consolation for victims’ families and 4) Studies have shown that innocent people have been executed by the state and that crime rates are not affected by a state’s use of the death penalty.
Instead, the bishops write, “The death penalty negatively influences our children’s moral formation and ourculture asit failsto allowfor mercyand redemption.”
“The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops will also be working in the upcoming Texas legislative session to improve the rights of jurors serving in death penalty sentencing cases,” explained Executive Director Jennifer Carr Allmon. “Texas law is intentionally misleading as it requires judges and attorneys to lie to jurors about the level of unanimity required for a death sentence. While we will continue our efforts to end the use of the death penalty in Texas, this legislation will at least improve the fairness of the current system.”
The statement is being released on the World Day Against the Death Penalty and at a time when Americans’ -- including Texans’-- support of the death penalty is declining. Fewer Texas juries are giving death sentences than at any time in the last two decades, and Texas' highest criminal court has granted an unusually high number of reprieves over the last two years due to concerns about the fairness and accuracy of death penalty convictions. This year, the state will see the lowest number of executions since 1996.
The statement also serves as the bishops’ annual address to Texas Catholics during Respect Life Month. The month offers the opportunity for Catholics to “reflect on the precious gift of life and recommit ourselves to working toward a culture that truly welcomes and protects human life in our society,” the bishops write.
“Our call to abolish the death penalty is not a call to deny justice,” the bishops write. “On the contrary, it is a call to the whole community to recognize that the death penalty does not fulfill justice, nor does it console the inconsolable.”
The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops is the association of the Roman Catholic bishops of Texas. Through the TCCB, the bishops provide a moral and social public policy voice that includes monitoring all legislation pertaining to Catholic moral and social teaching; accredit the state's Catholic schools; and maintain records that reflect the work and the history of the Catholic Church in Texas.
A memorial Mass was celebrated Sept. 30 for Loretto Sister M. Lois Zeis, a longtime teacher, social worker and driver for the Loretto Community who served for three decades in the Diocese of El Paso and also in Alabama, Missouri and New Mexico. The Mass took place at the Church of the Seven Dolors on the grounds of Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky. Sister Lois died Sept. 27 at Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary. She was 91 and in her 70th year as a Sister of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross.
Sister Lois was born Dec. 30, 1924, in St. Louis, one of four children of Mary (Brune) and Frank X. Zeis. She was baptized Irene Ann Zeis on Jan. 11, 1925. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, with minors in English and philosophy, from Webster College (now University) in Webster Groves, Mo., in 1946, and began teaching at a Catholic high school in St. Louis.
In 1947, she entered the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross. She was received into the Loretto Novitiate Aug. 15 of that same year, taking the religious name of Sister Mary Lois. Sister Lois made her first vows Dec. 8, 1949, and her final vows Aug. 15, 1953. She earned master’s degrees from St. Louis University in education in 1963 and in social work in 1974. She also earned a master’s in biology from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in 1970.
Her master’s in social work allowed Sister Lois to combine social service work in health care with classroom teaching at Loretto Academy in El Paso. Sister Lois lived and worked in El Paso for 30 years. She first taught at St. Joseph’s Academy from 1950 to 1952. From 1966 to 1971 she taught high school students at Loretto Academy. Sister Lois worked in the social service department of Hotel Dieu Hospital from 1974 to 1975. She was a social worker consultant at St. Joseph’s Hospital from 1976 to 1977. In addition, from 1976 to 1988 she again taught at Loretto Academy, where from 1977 to 1988 she was chairwoman of the social studies department and an American history teacher. From 1988 to 1991, she served the academy’s Loretto Community as a driver, and from 1991 to 1998 she was the Loretto Community’s health care facilitator in El Paso. Sister Lois retired in 1999, carrying out community service in El Paso through 2003.
Elsewhere, Sister Lois taught for 12 years at Bishop Toolen High School in Mobile, Ala. She also taught for a year in the St. Louis Archdiocese and performed community service while residing at the St. Louis Loretto Center in Webster Groves from 2004 to 2012. Earlier in her ministry, Sister Lois taught at Loretto Academy in Kansas City, Mo., from 1956 to 1958 and taught one semester at Our Lady of Sorrows High School in Bernalillo, N.M., in 1950.
Sister Lois moved to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary in 2012, where she carried out a ministry of prayer and presence until her death. She donated her body to the University of Louisville (Ky.) medical school. Sister Lois was preceded in death by her parents and one of her siblings, Sister Rita Zeis SSND. She is survived by her brother, Larry Zeis of Durham, N.H., and her sister, Mildred Henze of Hadley, Mass. Memorials in Sister Lois’s name may be sent to the Loretto Community, care of the Loretto Development Office, 4000 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Littleton, CO 80123-1308.
Loretto Academy Elementary School (co-ed PK3-5) will be participating in a global partnership collaborative program through the JDO Foundation. The JDO Foundation is an educational non-profit foundation committed to facilitating the use of technology in 3rd-6th grade classrooms around the world. In early September, Loretto Academy Elementary School became one of the JDO Foundation’s 35 partner schools.
Led by Elementary School Principal Jane German, teachers Ms. Stephanie Wages (3rd Grade), Ms. Gabriela Gonzalez (3rd Grade), Ms. Liza Harvey (4th Grade), and Ms. Pilar Gonzalez (5th Grade) will initiate the partnership program with their classes this fall. They have been paired with classes in Northern Ireland and will have the opportunity to communicate and collaborate on co-curricular topics using Chromebooks, iPads and other live sharing software. This program enables students to utilize technology to make new friends across the globe and explore learning topics together.
The JDO Global Partnership Program provides a long-term integrative collaboration model for partner schools. Loretto Academy Elementary School will be participating in the JDO Global Partnership Program for 3 years. This will enable the teachers to further develop relationships with their partner classes and refine techniques for collaborative learning. Congratulations to Loretto Academy Elementary School! This is an amazing opportunity for your students to connect and learn from peers around the world.
Join me for the 9th Annual Monster's Ball benefiting Loretto Academy at the Southwest University Event Center on Friday, October 28, 2016 from 7p-12a. The Monster’s Ball is El Paso’s Halloween-themed signature social charity event of the year!
Enjoy a complimentary signature cocktail, heavy hors d’oeuvres, no-host bar, costume contest with prizes, live auction, and dancing, all in the spirit of giving back to Loretto. Tickets are $65 per person or $800 (Groupie) for a reserved table of 10. Sponsorship & VIP opportunities from $1,500 (Backstage Pass) to $5,000 (Rock Icon) are available. For more information and tickets: Katie Martinez, Loretto Academy Advancement Office | 915.566.8400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year's event promises to blow people away with a rocker theme and select seating to make you and your group feel like stars. The annual theme within a theme has included “The Monster's Stayin’ Alive Disco Ball”, "Día de los Muertos Monster’s Ball”, “The Monster’s Ball Sci-Fi Soirée”, “The Monster’s Ball Hootenanny of Horror”, "The Movies & Monster's Ball", and "The Super Heroes|Villains Monster’s Ball".
The Monster’s Ball, created by Sofía Larkin Appleby (’87) in 2007, is dedicated to raising funds for a select nonprofit engaged in inspiring work throughout our community. In 2016, she gifted the event to Loretto Academy in honor of the Sisters of Loretto and her two daughters, Victoria Larkin (’19) and Lily Larkin (’22).
Costumes Preferred, Spiritedness Required. WARNING: Not a rubber chicken dinner.